9/11 miniseries filming in Toronto

Harvey Keitel stars as John O'Neill, subject of an ABC miniseries shooting here.

Harvey Keitel stars as John O'Neill, subject of an ABC miniseries shooting here.

JIM SLOTEK - Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:40 AM ET

TORONTO - The horror of Sept. 11 has been unfolding this month on a Toronto film set -- ever since, ironically enough, the day of the London bombings.

An ABC miniseries about the 2001 terrorist attacks began filming here July 7 with Harvey Keitel as John O'Neill, the FBI agent who hunted al-Qaida for years before quitting the Bureau and ironically meeting his doom as head of security at the World Trade Center.

Produced by Marc Platt (Legally Blonde, the musical Wicked), the miniseries has been talked about in the industry since the spring (Fox News denounced it as "the miniseries no one wanted to see.") But it's being filmed relatively quietly. No production announcement has been made, and it's being shot around town under the nondescript working-title "Untitled History Project."

ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson, who was at the network press tour in Los Angeles yesterday, told The Sun that our cheaper dollar isn't the only reason his 9/11 project is crossing the border. Shooting in certain Manhattan neighbourhoods is still limited due to homeland security restrictions.

"Washington is totally shut down," he said.

While most of the project will be filmed in Toronto, some scenes will be shot in New York, as well as Morocco. "We're being extremely respectful of this project," stressed McPherson, who added that while it is a fictitious account, it is very much a fact-based story.

So far, ABC says they have no airdate or title for the six hour miniseries, simply referred to for now as "Untitled Commission Report."

It is the first Hollywood production to tackle the events of 9/11. Oliver Stone has announced a 9/11 film starring Nicolas Cage as NYPD Sgt. John McLoughlin, one of the last men to be rescued from the ruins of the World Trade Center. But that movie is a few months away from start of production and the schedule on a TV miniseries will be more accelerated.

NBC was also in the race for a 9/11 miniseries, from producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and Canadian writer Graham Yost. But that $20 million project was cancelled last month when it appeared that the ABC mini would beat it to air.

Writer/producer Cyrus Nowrasteh (the Steven Spielberg miniseries Into The West), who is of Arab descent, talked about the project at the recent conservative Liberty Film Festival in L.A. "We will be connecting the facts and telling the story as it goes back to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993," he said.

"It will be about how even back then, there were a lot of people who were ahead of the game, who were concerned about the threat of Islamic terrorism, and how they were treated." Some of the information is taken from an acclaimed PBS Frontline special about O'Neill's career and frustrations as a terrorist-buster during the Clinton administration.

"Anything about 9/11 will be controversial," he said. "I commend ABC because they have continually asked me to be as truthful and honest as I can be. The producers have made every effort to be objective and tell the story truthfully -- because that's what the subject matter, and our audience, deserves."

ABC senior VP Quinn Taylor recently defended the network in the New York Times against the charge that four years was too soon. "The way we all had to quickly come to terms with what al-Qaida meant, how to say it much less how to spell it -- that was a tremendous education we all had to go through together. There is distance now to look back at that, and maybe we can channel those emotions into effecting change."


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